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What Makes an Athlete?

So I took my second huge test for my boards today. Hopefully it was my last. Hardcore studying has basically consumed all of my time for the past few days. It actually worked out OK for this to be a recovery week. Seeing as how I’ve needed to lock myself at the library and haven’t had time for much else, not having to work out 4 hours a day has been nice. I’m actually surprised at how terrible I feel taking time off. Granted, I wasn’t supposed to take THIS much time off, and that isn’t helping. I was supposed to get Monday off and do small workouts yesterday and today. I haven’t worked out in three days. This is the most time off I’ve taken since I started my training for IM. I needed to prioritize, though, and studying had to take the priority. If this were a regular training week, I may not have been so lenient. Studying is often associated with vending machines, and that has probably added to lack of motivation and my body just not quite feeling right. I’ve been pretty good about putting high quality fuel in it lately, so the recent consumption of excessive junk food is leaving me with some extreme gut rot. Back on both wagons tomorrow…

Since I don’t have much to report workout-wise today, I thought I’d write a bit about a question that’s been nagging me for some time now, “What makes an athlete?” You see, I’ve never considered myself an athlete. I’ve never even considered myself athletic, minus a time or two. I’ve been participating in organized sports since about 4th grade, but I was never the star of the team. I would show up for every practice, work my hardest, and still sit the bench for most of my basketball and volleyball games. I was actually pretty good at softball through high school, but poor coaching made me leave. (This was probably for the better because it helped me discover running.) Although I was only in Track and Cross Country for 2 years, it was the first time that I actually felt like my hard work paid off. Numbers don’t lie. I was not the fastest one on the team, but the work I put in and the races I ran kept me at least toward the top. My one “B” in high school was in Phy. Ed. What a ridiculous place to get a B. I’ve never been the most coordinated (I, ashamedly, am still not able to ride no-handed on my bike), so the skills tests at the end of each sport we covered were not my favorite part. I look back now and laugh because most of the people who earned A’s in Phy. Ed. are now overweight and out of shape. Anyway, back to the topic at hand... The first time I ever considered myself an “athlete” was when I won an athletic scholarship at the end of high school. I had been to two state CC meets by then and had been voted “most dedicated” by my CC teammates, but “athlete” was not a word that I would have used to describe myself. Six marathons, a couple of triathlons, and numerous road races later, I still don’t think it’s a word I’d use to describe myself. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because I don’t run at the front of the pack. My fastest marathon was 3:58, and I had to work damn hard for that one. I am usually just right smack dab in the middle, but lately I’ve been wondering: Will Ironman make me an athlete? Part of me says yes, that even before I’ve started the race, the training, time, and dedication put forth up to that point prove that I am an athlete. I’m still not sure. So I pose this question: What is an athlete? Is it a person with dedication? Coordination? Speed? Drive?



I think probably "athlete" lives more in the mind and spirit than it does the body - like you pointed out, I know lots of fat lazy bastards who were once, at least, gifted on the football field or basketball floor. Having the ability doesn't make you an athlete, and merely utilizing it doesn't, either.

I don't think pedigree is equal to athlete, either - what you describe of your high school seasons is similar to mine, but I never won any scholarships... :) I tried hard, was interested, but was mostly middle of the pack. Maybe slightly above average at everything, but nothing to write home about. Still, I've always considered myself an athlete. And I suppose that's defined as having an interest and purpose with sport. The competition involved has always been important to me, but not the singular focus. I'm pretty sure I'm incapable for a sub-4:00 marathon, too, but still call myself a runner. It's all in the mind, maybe.

So yeah, I'd say - you're an athlete. It's something you are, rather than something you do. That sort of thing.

Good post. Glad to read someone else's waxing philosophical. :)